Bambi Kino are something of an alt-rock supergroup. The four-piece features Ira Elliot (drums) from Nada Surf, Eric Paparazzi (bass) of Cat Power, Mark Rozzo (guitar and vocals) from Maplewood, and the guitar of Doug Gillard of the mighty Guided By Voices. Their unusual nom de’ plum is in honor of the very first lodgings of The Beatles in Hamburg back in 1960.
Bambi Kino is devoted to The Beatles in Hamburg, Germany 1960 – specifically their very first gigs at the Indra Club. Yes, even before the legendary Star Club appearances, The Beatles played the Indra. Amazingly, the Indra is still around, 50 years later. Our aging hipsters in Bambi Kino came up with the brilliant idea to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ German debut with a four-day residency at the Indra, playing the same sets The Beatles played way back then.
What emerges on the 12 performances collected on Bambi Kino is a profound understanding of the music. The arrangements are immaculate recreations of the sound of the (very) early Beatles. The modest bass and drums of Paul and Pete Best are perfectly matched with John’s straight up rhythm guitar, while George always picked appropriate lead guitar lines.
Listening to Bambi Kino is almost ghostly. It is not as if Mark Rozzo sounds like McCartney or Lennon at all, but the way these songs are played, plus the stellar harmonies, make for a distinct evocation of the era. You can close your eyes (pardon the steal) and imagine yourself in a bar 50 years ago, catching a set by a better than average English combo. No thoughts of the past, and certainly no inkling of the worldwide impact these lads would have over the next decade, just a good time tonight. It goes without saying that The Beatles held an incredible concentration of talent, but Hamburg was their trial by fire – they literally sang for their supper.
I have to trust Bami Kino’s word for it that these were the actual songs The Beatles sang each night, ‘cuz I wasn’t even born yet. There probably exists a setlist on the Internet among the one million and counting Beatles site out there.
But in truth, kicking off with the great Lieber/Stoller tune “Some Other Guy” makes the point irrelevant. You know this is not The Beatles, but the heart and soul is there, and that is what matters.
Right after the rockabilly stomp of “Some Other Guy” comes the outlandish showbiz ballad “Besame Mucho,” insisted on by (from all accounts) Sir Paul. It sounds as wonderfully out of place here as it undoubtedly did back in the day.
Bambi Kino probably relished the idea of putting out a “warts and all” set, but they quickly recover, as I am certain The Beatles themselves did. No more sticky-sweet covers, thank you very much – just good old four-on-the-floor rock. Johnny Kid And The Pirates wrote one super-sized Nugget with “Shakin’ All Over” and Bambi Kino’s version of The Beatles’ version is one mighty fine highlight of this set. “Ramrod” follows, and keeps the energy up in an excellent way.
The dangerous genius of Phil Spector is given tribute with “To Know Her Is To Love Her,” and you know Paul was the crooner here. Finally we come to “Clarabella,” and this shot of R&B is pure John. The song rocks, and the harmonica just brings the house down.
At least, that is what one senses. If there is one flaw in Bambi Kino, it is the fact that the tunes come from the soundboard – and we lose the “live” ambience. I mean, that was the whole point to me – to reproduce those halcyon days. People whooping and hollering in the middle of your set adds immeasurably to the overall feel. But maybe that is just nitpicking. Bambi Kino do a marvelous job of getting The Beatles circa-1960 sound down.
Not only is this a great tribute to the band, but it is actually just a straight-up great rock and roll record. Bambi Kino are one hell of a lot of fun on any level, and definitely worth looking into.